Guest Blogger: JakeB takes three articles for a test drive

Thursday is GURPS-Day, and today Gaming Ballistic welcomes a guest poster, +Jake Bernstein

It’s not often that you get direct feedback from someone using something you’ve written. Mailanka gave it over on the SJG Forums when he decided to use The Last Gasp in a super-detailed samurai campaign, and +Peter V. Dell’Orto has mentioned a few times that he’s using a version of Technical Grappling in his Felltower campaign.

Well, Jake turned this to 11, and is using three of my pieces in his campaign. TG, Dodge This, and a draft of an article that sprung from an old idea I had on making Aim an attack roll.

One thing I’ve learned over time, though, is that there’s zero substitute, when it comes to writing rules, for not just playing them, but having someone else play them without you. Is your writing clear? Are the rules ambiguous, or direct? Do they miss common in-play test cases? Do they hit edge cases too soon, or at all? 

You can answer all of those through thought experiments. But you’ll get the answers wrong. If you play it, you’ll learn something. If you let someone else run it, you’ll learn even more.

The new article hasn’t been published yet, so some of the features have been kept vague, including the title!

Without further ado:


Hello everyone!  A
special thanks to Doug for letting me use Gaming Ballistic for what may amount
to a glorified play report, but since it involves several sets of rules written
by Mr. Cole, I suppose this makes some sense. 
I don’t have a blog, but I post on the SJ Games forums as apoc527.  I also play in Doug’s Alien Menace campaign
as Dr. Samuel McKay, a combat-ready scientist in the tradition of Colonel Sam
Carter from SG-1. 

I have been running GURPS 4th Edition since about
December 2011.  My group tends to run in
~4-6 month “rotations” so I can’t take credit for the full time, but I have run
an XCOM/Fallout hybrid post-apoc campaign (TL7-9), a THS campaign, a Banestorm
campaign, and now my current game, a conversion of the Star*Drive Campaign
Setting, which is about TL10^.  I also
played and ran in quite a few GURPS 3rd Edition games, but suffered
some major burnout and left the GURPS scene for quite a few years. 
My Campaign

GURPS Star*Drive: 2525 is my fourth full-length GURPS
campaign.  It’s somewhere in between
gritty cyberpunk-in-space and space opera, uses approximately TL10^ technology,
includes psionics, and has a mostly human-dominated Stellar Ring with some
aliens interspersed.  The campaign theme
is bounty hunting. 
Testing Douglas H.
Cole Rules

Doug would probably be the first to admit that he writes a
lot of rules.  I happen to like most of
his articles, and he was kind enough to include me in the playtest of an
upcoming article about the Aim maneuver. 
Since I certainly don’t want to spoil much about that article, I will
say only this: the new aiming rules are about convergence of the melee and ranged
combat options and about making the Aim action into something other than a
skipped turn. 

I am also using TechnicalGrappling, and Dodge This!.  Fortunately, Star*Drive doesn’t have many
bows, so The Deadly Spring was right
out (for which my group shall be eternally grateful). 

Note: The grunt work on The Deadly Spring is usually on the prep work and design side. It should mostly not impact play much. 

The Fight

On Monday, July 7, I ran the PCs in this Star*Drive game
through their first major battle.  The
PCs are an odd group, consisting of a rugged human rifleman and tactician
(Aidan Kane), an ex-Voidcorp sesheyan assassin (Gargoyle), a fraal
psi-scout/tracker (Sinon), a Thuldan gengineered Chronos-class commando
(Seamus), a Starmech pilot/tech (Blake) and an ex-Concord combat medic
(Benton).  They were arrayed against a
human soldier (Rackham), a human telekinetic grappler (Shenna), a weren brute
(Gorblog), and a twitchy t’sa pilot (Yelk). 
Additionally, the fight included three bounty hunter NPCs, a group of
Solar “space cowboys:” Thaddeus Burns, Liam Walker, and Mese Smorra, all human

Quite the array of bad guys, good guys, and who knows. This will be an interesting test case. Far enough from the “mostly human norm” the articles are written for to stretch the concepts but not so far that anything should really break. The TL10 technology plus the aim and dodge rules might prove interesting – TL10 has some, well, badass technology in it.

At the start of the fight, the PCs thought the bad guys were the space cowboys, who they understood to
be bounty hunters who didn’t exactly follow the “code.”  The actual bad guys were a group of
mercenaries hired to extract the very person the PCs were trying to
capture.  A battle was inevitable.  If you a picture a small airport terminal
with three landing pads and associated jetways, you have an idea of where the
PCs were.  Now, convert that airport
terminal to a spaceport, stick it on a hostile world with a toxic atmosphere
and make the jetways into airlocked passages, and it’s even closer to what the
PCs faced.  Skipping quite a few details,
the PCs went into the terminal area looking for three space cowboys they were
convinced were about to ambush them in order to steal the bounty.  Coming out of their own airlocked jetway, the
group of mercs (Rackham, Shenna, Gorblog, and Yelk) appeared, still acting as
“fellow bounty hunters” and asked if the PCs needed help dealing the
“treacherous space cowboys.”  Oh, and
they were in full combat gear…nothing too
suspicious about that! 
After exploring around the area and failing to locate the
space cowboys, Sinon decided to use his Seekersense psi power to locate
them.  Turns out they were in the
ceiling.  The PCs didn’t have long to
ponder this fact, however, as the mercs chose that moment to attack!  The very first hostile act involved Gorblog
using a hyperdense weren chuurchkna (basically a dueling halberd) to chop off
one of Sinon’s legs.  The fraal dropped,
started bleeding, but remained conscious. 
Yelk, the dual laser pistol wielding t’sa, fired at Gargoyle, unaimed,
and scored 2 hits out of 6, after some Aerobatic dodging (yes, he was flying
inside the terminal).  Gargoyle is
massively cybered up (21 hp from a base ST of 9), and so kept going.  He readied his laser rifle for a counter
Meanwhile, Rackham tossed a prepared plasma grenade at
Blake’s feet, and Shenna used a nasty custom technique she calls “The
Nutcracker” to crush Aidan’s “vital organs” (modeled as a TK Crush technique
similar to Brain Squeeze but targeting the vulnerable bits of males).  I ruled the PCs were surprised, but given
that many had Combat Reflexes, most snapped out of it pretty quickly and got
into the fight.  I should note at this
point that this was my first GURPS combat GMed since late last year and was my
first TL7+ combat since approximately Summer 2013.  So, things didn’t go 100% smoothly, and
thinking back, I think I allowed the PCs a round of actions they probably
shouldn’t have gotten.  Ah well!

Here’s where we get to Doug’s rules!  Aidan’s turn came up and he has Extra Attack
from cyberware.  In the new rules, the Aim maneuver is eliminated and replaced with
a series of Aim “attacks” that follow the same All-Out, Committed, Normal
progression that melee attacks do.  Using
his Extra Attack for a basic Aim action, Aidan was able to, in one second, aim
his very large, very powerful rifle at Yelk, who was positioned a rather
suboptimal 6 yards away with no cover, and squeeze off a 5-round burst of 11mm
ETC rifle death at his Skull.  Aidan’s adjusted skill was something in the
20s and he hit with about 3 bullets, resulting in the immediate, irretrievable,
and rather messy end of one Lo’kra Yelk. 
Score one for the new rules!

Since Aidan apparently had brass balls and shrugged off her
attack (he has a high Will and some anti-psi), she shifted her attention to the
flying sesheyan (see here)
and used her TK Grab and Wrestling skill to grapple him…Technically!  After, frankly,
a fair amount of confusion (I had never used TG before, nor had my players), we realized that we were dealing
with an invisible attacker (-4 dodge) and since Gargoyle had no idea what was
coming, I didn’t let him use any other defense against her ranged, telekinetic
grapple to his right arm.  Needless to
say, he failed his Dodge roll and suffered all of 1 CP to that arm.  Her goal was to put him in an Arm Lock, which
I read as immediately “disabling” his use of that arm.  

True enough, a locked limb can’t be used for any other purpose, with a side order of dear God, that hurts.

In retrospect, she never actually made an Arm
Lock check, as I attempted to have her grapple him again to increase her CP
total.  It was also, therefore, my
mistake that I didn’t allow him to shoot anyone—the 1 CP shouldn’t have
impaired him much at all, but I ruled at the moment that his arm was held and
he couldn’t use it to fire his rifle. 

Grabbing limbs is an admittedly weird test case for grappling. A 1CP grapple isn’t much, and doesn’t interfere with much (no ST or DX penalty from such a poor grip). It doesn’t take much to throw off an Aim maneuver, though – so not allowing certain things is within the scope of GM judgement. The rules on Concentrate had this in mind, though.

 C’est la vie!  Anyway, the rest of
that portion of the fight went like this: Gargoyle tried to Break Free, but
Shenna “TK Grab-Wrestle parried” and Gargoyle couldn’t generate any CP to break
her grip.  She attempted to improve her
TK Grab-Wrestle grip, but this time I ruled that Gargoyle could “feel it” and
try a Parry with his own grappling skill, which was successful. 

Totally legit. “Hands-free” Parry would have worked here, and the rules about being able to defend from attacks from the rear arc while grappling are all about feeling your foe, as well.

 He then got sick of this exchange and flew
out of her line of sight, which is a situation not covered all that extensively
in TG.  I ruled that this broke her TK Grab grip and
by this time, she ended up with a back full of flechettes from one of the space
cowboys who dropped from the ceiling and turned out to be rather more honorable
than the PCs thought. 

How many CP does it take to hold your foe in the air? That’s a good question. Probably something like “use your mass-based HP as a guide.” So if you have a 175-lb person in your grip, you probably need something like 11 CP to hoist them by main strength if they’re unwilling. That seems like a lot, though, so this might need some refining. 

So, that was the TG action…not
a whole lot this time, but it sure was interesting using it in the context of
TK Grab and flying targets!  I look
forward to getting more comfortable with the rules and having some more
standard fights where the grapplers are, y’know, actually touching one
Back to the rest of the battle and the alternate aiming rules.  The ability
to Aim and Shoot in one second ended up being decisive.  While Blake was stunned long enough to eat a
plasma grenade at 1 yard and get taken out of the fight, Aidan more than made
up for his loss.  

Benton never even
engaged, choosing instead to drag the badly burned Blake behind cover and start
spraying him with something to ease the pain (Blake took 33 burn damage, and
after armor, resulted in over 20 injury—ouch). 
Seamus and Gorblog engaged in their own little melee dual, with
hyperdense traditional weren halberd vs. monosword.  The details of that fight aren’t that
important, as Gorblog eventually got shot in the back of the head by Sinon, who
took the simple expedient of pointing his rifle at Gorblog’s skull and going
full auto at close range (he didn’t bother Aiming) and getting a lucky

Shenna was more difficult, thanks to cover and her DR 20 PK
Shield.  Aidan used his Extra Attack to
good effect, Aiming at her and firing in the same turn.  Two of his rounds, aimed at her skull, hit, but both were stopped by a
combination of her PK Shield and DR 26 combat helmet.  Aidan then used Quick Reload to swap to APHC
rounds…Sinon dragged himself a yard back and propped himself up to Aim at
Shenna using a normal Aim action (frankly, the player here wasn’t yet used to
the new Aiming options and just chose one he already knew).  His Aim roll succeeded and on his next turn,
he let loose a long burst (15 rounds), but only hit with a few, all of which
thudded uselessly against a combination of her PK Shield, the wall, and her DR
18 nanoweave suit.   

It’s weird how binary this can be. You either splatter your target over the landscape, or go ping!

Rackham eventually got his own rifle ready, but lacking
Extra Attack, didn’t bother Aiming and fired at where Aidan had taken cover
behind a thin wall.  The -6 penalty for being
unable to see your target caused Rackham to barely miss, and Aidan was alerted
to possible danger when a dozen rounds burst through the wall right above
him.  Aidan poked himself around the
corner, made a successful Aim roll thanks to a timely use of Luck (another
important concept from the new rules)
and hit Rackham once… in the skull…with an APHC round doing 5dx2(2) pi.  Rackham took about 60 injury and fell over
and died 90 seconds later due to excessive cranial bleeding.

Only aiming when it is super-safe to do so is what happens in real life. I consider this bit of player judgment a win.

The other space cowboy threats-turned-allies all dropped
from the ceiling and helped to varying degrees. 
They didn’t aim either, but scored hits against Gorblog and Shenna,
which were damaging, but not decisively so due to some pretty heavy body
armor.  All this time, I was enforcing Dodge This! Perception rolls before
anyone was allowed a Dodge roll.  Shenna
failed to see the guy behind her, and he filled her back with an automatic
shotgun firing high tech flechettes.  She
ended up living and the PCs healed her and turned her into the authorities
later on. 
So, that was the whole fight.  It took about 3 hours of face-to-face gaming,
but we spent quite a bit of time trying to remember the basic combat rules and
then adding in Doug’s various concepts. 
I think the next battle will go faster and it should just get easier
from there. 

Jake’s Parting Shot

My takeaways are that the new rules on aiming have some really great concepts that I think a lot of folks will like—it
creates options for ranged attackers that make ranged fights more interesting
than the Aim-Attack-Aim-Attack cadence of the Basic Set.  However, allowing Extra Attack to include
Aiming was really powerful—I think it
makes sense, but just realize that this will create extremely fast, extremely
accurate, and therefore extremely lethal
fire from anyone gifted with this Trait.  

Dodge This! was fairly easy to
use in actual play, as there’s basically zero bookkeeping—it is, however, an
extra step to remember to make a Perception roll before allowing a Dodge

Finally, Technical Grappling is something that will take some getting used
to.  You replace the semi-intuitive
“Quick Contest” mechanics from the Basic Set with a more consistent, but not necessarily “intuitive” Attack-Defend-Control
Point “Damage” paradigm.  It feels odd,
at first, to think of grappling as a series of attacks and parries, but I think
once we get used to it, it will make a lot of sense—besides, having the very
first example of TG usage involve a
flying target being grappled by TK Grab probably didn’t help our understanding

I’ll probably write another guest blog post (though
hopefully a shorter one!) when I get some more actual play experience with all
of these rules.  If you got this far,
thanks for reading! 

9 thoughts on “Guest Blogger: JakeB takes three articles for a test drive

  1. Extra Attack+Aim-as-Attack=Gunslinger

    I've ended up in non-Technical grappling situations a few times recently and wished it were otherwise, because the binary "regular" system has no system for a "counter-grapple"; even if all you do is allow the CP "damage" rolls in regular grappling, it's still an improvement.

    1. Not quite gunslinger, though many of the effects overlap. Still, depending on how it works out, increasing the price of Extra Attack by an additional amount up to the cost of gunslinger

    2. It's definitely not quite Gunslinger. Gunslinger PLUS Doug's article PLUS Extra Attack via Accelerated Reflexes would be even more powerful, as the Extra Attack could be used for super-fast aimed fire as well.

      I should point out that I don't think the result is *bad,* just extremely powerful, but that's okay–it's TL10 and in addition to the cybernetics, almost all combatants were getting +2-+3 from HUDs and Targeting Software. It all adds up very fast and results in MUCH higher hit percentages compared to TL6-8 gun combat…but I actually really like that because it makes TL9+ feel quite distinct from earlier ranged combat paradigms.

    3. I meant that it's no worse than Gunslinger, really—that is, both end up with a ranged attack plus Acc, etc. in one second without being preceded by an Aim maneuver. Maybe I should've said that in the first place 😛

    4. Ah! Well, true. On the other hand, what i took from your post is also that if Extra Attack is now giving a whole bunch of the advantages of Gunslinger, then it should probably cost a bit more.

  2. I thought this was an interesting post from the perspective of seeing how some of these rules shake out in combat but if I'm being completely honest you had me at "Star*Drive." /swoon

    1. I'd love to check it out if even just to see how it translates and salivate over adventures that I won't be going on any time soon. Man, I read and reread the crap out of those Star*Drive sourcebooks!

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